HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Playing House: Season 1
HTS Overall Score:71
USA isn’t exactly known for its sitcoms. It’s got a few, but the last few years have been a turning point for them as they slip out of the spy and action genres into more traditional 30 minute segment comedies. Last year was a change of pace with the addition of friends Lenny Parham and Jessica St. Clair’s TV sitcom, “Playing House”, making it the second sitcom to USA’s name (the first being “Sirens”). Produced and given starring roles, Lenny and Jessica have created an offbeat style of humor that stands out from the bunch in many ways, combining the glossy look of USA Network shows, with many of the stylistic quirks of Comedy Central and adding in a dash of the clichéd sitcom scenarios. I enjoyed the show quite a bit, but underneath it all, it feels like a fledgling outing for USA Network, with some awkward first season stumbling’s, as well as some great innovations.
Emma (St. Clair) is back in her rinky dink home town to help with her best friend, Maggie’s (Lenny Parham), baby shower. Things go all to pig slop when Maggie finds out that her loving husband, Bruce (Brad Morris) isn’t exactly the faithful type, leaving Maggie in the lurch. Emma is the polar opposite of Maggie in many ways. She moved out of the small town, she went to the city, she has a high priced job, and she’s unmarried. Now she’s faced with a dilemma. Does she go back to this lifestyle, or does she quit her job and help her best friend raise a child. Like any sane person does, Emma leaves her old life behind and moves in with Maggie to help her through the pregnancy.
It doesn’t take much to realize that this is going to be a bit of a whirlwind for the two girls. They have to cope with pregnancy, friendship and of course all of the new hormones and new situations that they get into. Maggie has to struggle with Bruce being a cheating slob, and the agonizing process of separating yourself from someone who’s been such a big part of your life up until this point. Emma has to deal with her own demons too, as she has a hard time coming back to the hum drum life she struggled so hard to get away from. She finds solace in her best friend, but ironically also in the form of Mark (Keegan-Michael Key), her very first boyfriend, who happens to be the local police officer as well as married to the high school nerd.
The premise of the show is rather simple. Two girlfriends move in together to help each other out and soon start learning life lessons as well as making us crack up along the way. We’ve seen it all a million times, this time with a just a polished USA Network twist. St. Clair and Parham are the main stars here, and that’s where the show gets a lot of its warmth from, but I really enjoyed the background characters more. Keegan-Michael Key plays a cop that feels right out of “Key and Peele”, playing that goofball character that has made him one rich man today, and we get to see Jane Kaczmarek (the mother from “Malcolm in the Middle” play Emma’s mother, which is one of the highlights of the show as Jane is PERFECT at those harsh, witchy parents. I mean she made a killing of it with “Malcolm in the Middle”. Brad Morris isn’t given a whole lot of screen time, but when he is on screen he totally kills it.
As much as I enjoyed the twist on the show and the first couple episodes were glorigously offbeat, the show tended to go into familiar waters as the season progressed. More and more standard sitcom tropes were pulled out and the storylines became all too familiar for those of us who have been watching sitcoms forever. It’s not bad, but those repetitious tropes are well worn and have been used a ton in the past. I guess I was hoping for something a bit more original from USA. “Playing House” is an enjoyable little show (and I mean little, clocking in at about 9 twenty-two minute episodes), and definitely worth checking out when it pops up for a rental.
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Not Rated by the MPAA
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=50241[/img]“Playing House” is another in a fast growing line of minor TV series that just don’t seem to warrant a High Definition Blu-ray release. I know comedies aren’t exactly fantastic sellers in terms of market share, and the high gloss, high profile action/drama shows tend to get those releases, but it still would have been nice considering how good the show looked on air. Still, the 1.78:1 MPEG2 encoded DVD looks quite good for having 3 hours and 37 minutes of standard definition material. The lack of any extras beyond trailers helped free up some space, so every inch of data is left to the encode, which looks quite good. The show has the trademark USA network look, with heavily saturated colors and a shiny, glossy veneer that looks photo realistic (just with some boosted white levels). Fine detail is excellent and I have no real complain with the black levels. The only thing I saw that was out of place was some macroblocking, which might have to do with the compression. Still a VERY nice looking TV transfer.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=50249[/img]The 5.1 Dolby Digital track fares just as well as the video does, with a solid front heavy encode that has a lot going for it all around. The vocals are crisp and clear with solid directionality among the front 3 speakers, and a surprising amount of surround activity when called upon. There’s not a lot of “action” per se, in the mix, but the ambient noises of the show come through clearly in those rear/side channels and the LFE (albeit a bit mild) is certainly present and adds some nice weight to a few of the scenes.
“Playing House: Season 1” is an odd mixture of familiar and unique in its fledgling season, and I really liked some of what I saw. There’s a LOT of talent in the production, both in front of and behind the camera, and I really hope they can get the groove going as the characters are all extremely likeable. Most of the issues that I saw this season were really just growing pains in the writing department. Season 2 is coming to fruition next month and I really hope to see some good episodes form the series. Audio and video are what you would expect from a modern TV show and are great, considering the DVD only release. I would have liked to see some actual extras, but that wouldn’t have swayed my opinion on the show itself though. A solid series, with a few growing pains, but still a very enjoyable experience. Solid Rental
Starring: Lennon Parham, Jessica St. Clair, Keegan-Michael Key
Created by: Lennon Parham, Jessica St. Clair
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 MPEG2
Audio: English: Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 217 Minutes
DVD Release Date: July 7th, 2015
Buy Playing House: Season 1 On DVD at Amazon
Recommendation: Good Rental
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